Former Neo-Nazi shop and Klan museum is being transformed into a center for racial harmony

The process of transforming a world where injustice persists into one where justice reigns is a long, slow, multi-faceted one. Much of it is invisible work, and progress is often two steps forward, one step back.

But occasionally, a project comes along that is both a symbolic and practical manifestation of change. The Echo Project in Laurens, South Carolina is one of those projects.

In 1996, the Redneck Shop and "World's Only Klan Museum" was opened in the historic Echo Theater in Laurens. The Echo had been a segregated theater during the Jim Crow era, and the town of Laurens itself was named for a wealthy slave-trader, Henry Laurens, so perhaps that shouldn't be surprising. But still.

With Confederate flags flying and a swastika hanging on the back wall, the Redneck Shop sold racist clothing, bumper stickers, KKK robes, and other paraphernalia to neo-Nazis for years.

In an odd series of events, the ownership of the building changed hands, which changed history. First it went from the former KKK Grand Wizard John Howard (who founded the shop) to his young protege Michael Burden (who lived in the building). During a temporary falling out with Howard and change of heart in 1997, Burden sold the deed to the building to Reverend David Kennedy, a Black civil rights activist whose church helped Burden out.

There was one caveat in the deed transfer—Howard would be allowed to keep running the Redneck Shop in the theater until he died.


Strange arrangement, right? Rev. Kennedy had held protests in front of the shop in the building he owned, but legally he couldn't close it. And this went on for years. In 2006, the theater even hosted the Aryan Nations' World Congress.

Finally, Rev. Kennedy took legal action to oust Howard and his racist shop and museum, and after a 4-year-long lawsuit, was successful. In May 2012, the Redneck Shop closed for good. (Kennedy's story has been turned into a feature film, "Burden," starring Forrest Whittaker, which was released last year.)

Now the theater is being prepped to become a diversity center that will focus on racial harmony and healing, which will also house a museum on racial reconciliation.

Regan Freeman helped co-found the Echo Project with Rev. Kennedy and has raised $300,000 toward the building's renovation. He's in the process of collecting stories of Black residents around Laurens to help build the history of the area, but it was a woman's tweet that led him to a disturbing treasure trove of items that will add something tangible to that history.

According to ABC News, Freeman responded to a tweet from a woman who owns the land that John Howard had lived on. She had bins of items that had belonged to Howard, which she was offering to the Southern Poverty Law Center. After some negotiations, the woman sold them to Freeman. The bins include posters of Hitler, a "Klan Rally Instructions" manual, photo negatives of cross burnings, and offensive caricatures of Black people, and "business cards" KKK members would leave Black families as a form of intimidation. (The cards said that their visit had been a social one, and "don't make the next visit a business call.")

"This stuff isn't from 100 years ago. Some of it is maybe from the last decade or two," Freeman told ABC News. "I think it is important to see it and see how deep this hate goes so you can see why we need to fight so hard to change."

Freeman plans to go through the items with historians from the University of South Carolina to determine which of them should be preserved and which will best inform the storytelling Freeman plans to do at the theater.

Though it's appalling that the theater housed a shrine to hatred a dozen years into the 21st century, the Echo Project offers a ray of hope that transformation is possible.

"We're hoping The Echo Project will become a place where every race could be respected — a place where diversity is not only just talked about, but is celebrated through action," Kennedy told ABC News.

Beatuiful. Can't wait to see it, Reverend Kennedy.

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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